COLUMN: Predicting the major 88th Academy Award nominations

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The 88th Academy Award nominations will be announced tomorrow morning, January 14, 2016, hot off of the weekend's 73rd Golden Globe awards.  I've been following the full awards season over on my Awards Tracker page.  Using that data as the tea leaves and a truckload of hunches, I'm going to attempt to closely predict the Oscar nominations for the "Big 8" categories for the third year in a row.  Remember, these are predictions, not preferences.  These are not who I would vote for, rather who I think are going to get the call.

The top eight categories are Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Last year, I correctly guessed 34 of 43 nominees of those Big 8.  The year before, I was 36-for-41.  I'll take that nearly-80% score every time.  One of these years I will try naming all the categories, right down the technical and artistic ones.  Until then, here are my sure-to-be-wrong predictions for tomorrow's nominations:

BEST PICTURE

My predicted nominees:  "Spotlight," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Revenant," "The Big Short," "Carol," "Room," "Brooklyn," "The Martian," "Bridge of Spies," and "Creed"

My take:  Thanks to the modern rules, this category can be anywhere from five to ten nominees.  I picked ten and I think the first eight are locks, even the small-scale "Room."  I think "Room" is this year's "Whiplash" as the proverbial Little Engine That Could. "Bridge of Spies," even with the Spielberg clout, seems like a weak nominee.  Picking a full boat of ten gives me a bonus guess or two, so I threw "Creed" in there.

Possible surprises or snubs:  Watch out for plethora of party-crashing titles.  First, "Sicario" deserves to be there, period, but it won't make it.  Second is "Straight Outta Compton," the well-regarded musical biopic that won over the end of summer.  There might be enough foreign-backed respect for "Son of Saul" as a dual nominee here for Best Picture and in its natural category of Best Foreign Language Film, where it is the favorite.  Another possible dual category nominee could be "Inside Out."  The final name that could get some attention is the biggest fish in the pond.  Is its conceivable that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" could get a "Titanic"-like push?

BEST DIRECTOR

My predicted nominees:  George Miller for "Mad Max: Fury Road," Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight," Todd Haynes for "Carol," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for "The Revenant," and Ridley Scott for "The Martian"

My take:  My picks here nearly match the recent Directors Guild of America nominees with one switch.  I put in Haynes over "The Big Short" director Adam McKay.  Haynes carries far more respect with voters than the man who brought us the career of Will Ferrell.

Possible surprises or snubs:  Because he's on the DGA list, Adam McKay is the closest snub or surprise.  The weakest name on the list may in fact be Ridley Scott.  If they're going for big names of universal love, you can never count out Steven Spielberg for "Bridge of Spies" or Quentin Tarantino for "The Hateful Eight."  Personally, I'd love to see "Creed" director Ryan Coogler sneak into this field.  

BEST ACTOR

My predicted nominees:  Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Revenant," Michael Fassbender for "Steve Jobs," Eddie Redmayne for "The Danish Girl," Matt Damon for "The Martian," and Bryan Cranston for "Trumbo"

My take:  This category is about Leo and everyone else.  Fassbender is his closest competitor, but anyone other than DiCaprio winning next month would be an upset.

Possible surprises or snubs:  Because it's Leo and everyone else, this is a thinner field and tougher category to predict.  I think the first four names above are locks.  The wild card is that fifth slot.  I went with Bryan Cranston from "Trumbo" because he's been the trend here for the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards.  I think he is more credible to get a nomination than fellow SAG nominee Johnny Depp for "Black Mass."  The two guys I would love to see that deserve it are Michael Keaton for "Spotlight" and Michael B. Jordan for "Creed."  

BEST ACTRESS

My predicted nominees:  Brie Larson for "Room," Saoirse Ronan or "Brooklyn," Cate Blanchett for "Carol," Charlotte Rampling for "45 Years," and Jennifer Lawrence for "Joy."

My take:  You might look at Charlotte Rampling and say "Who," but she's been the small-film success in this category and is a respected veteran.  There's always one vet that makes this field.  Like Best Actor, the first four are automatics.  Lawrence's immense popularity wins the final spot.

The surprise and snubs:  If Academy voters really want to throw monkey wrenches into this mix to add some pop, there are some great possible names.  I sorely want to call for the Charlize Theron "upset special" surprise addition over the popularity contest that is Jennifer Lawrence for "Joy," but I don't see it happening.  They could match the SAG Awards with Sarah Silverman coming out of left field with "I Smile Back."  Helen Mirren has two Oscar-bait roles ("Woman in Gold" and "Trumbo") and is the closest veteran peer to pushing out Rampling.  One final deep sleeper that deserves attention is Emily Blunt from "Sicario."

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

My predicted nominees:  Sylvester Stallone for "Creed," Mark Rylance for "Bridge of Spies," Michael Shannon for "99 Homes," Paul Dano for "Love and Mercy, and Jacob Tremblay for "Room"

My take:  This is a hard one after the top two.  Stallone and Rylance have been trading award wins all season and are head and shoulders above everyone else.  This leaves three fluid spots that could be shuffled any number of ways.  In one "going with my heart instead of my head" pick, I'm putting Jacob Tremblay from "Room" in this field and I don't care what you think.  If Quvenzhane Wallis can get nominated as she did years ago for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," there is a precedent and a capacity to honor a child actor.  I think he deserves appreciation that much.

Possible surprises and snubs:  This is the most loaded category of all the acting awards, without question.  You could put ten guys up there and they would all deserve to be there.  Those next five would include previous Oscar winner Benecio del Toro for "Sicario," and two dual ensemble threats: "Spotlight" members Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo and "The Big Short" stars Steve Carell and Christian Bale (who might be technically seen as the lead).   A deep dark horse could be Idris Elba for "Beasts of No Nation."

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

My predicted nominees:  Alicia Vikander for "Ex Machina," Rooney Mara for "Carol," Kate Winslet for "Steve Jobs," Helen Mirren for "Trumbo," and Jennifer Jason Leigh for "The Hateful Eight"

My take:  Maybe the one question in this category is whether voters are considering Miss 2015 Alicia Vikander for "Ex Machina" or "The Danish Girl," and if that splits her voting power.  Crappy math could get her bounced even though she's won more awards in this category than any of the other nominees combined.

Possible surprises and snubs:  There are sneaky surprises possible in a traditionally wild card category.  Mirren, like Rampling in the Best Actress race, is that token respected veteran that is a prerequisite.  She's also a SAG nominee in this category, so it's not far-fetched.  The strongest snub will be Kristen Stewart in the too-underseen "Clouds of Sils Maria."  The universal acclaim for "Spotlight" might spread to Rachel McAdams as an upstart nominee.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

My predicted nominees:  Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for "Spotlight," Pete Docter, Meg LaFauvre, and Josh Cooley for "Inside Out," Quentin Tarantino for "The Hateful Eight," Oren Movermann and Michael Alan Lerner for "Love and Mercy," Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen for "Bridge of Spies"

My take:  The eventual runaway winner here is "Spotlight."  This is its assured Oscar and it has swept this field at every turn in the minor awards with over 20 wins.  The next closest is "Inside Out" with a scant three wins.

Possible surprises and snubs:  The first three films above are locks.  Tarantino is too loved not to make this field.  That leaves two spots up for grabs for nomination theft.  Like Tarantino, the Academy loves everything the Coen brothers touch, so "Bridge of Spies" sneaks into this field.  Also, the Academy likes to honor at least one non-Best Picture nominee from smaller film.  I think that spot goes to "Love and Mercy" this year.  However, look out for Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" or Ramin Bahrani and Amir Nederi or "99 Homes" as potential sleepers.  The deepest and zaniest surprise would be the Writers Guild of America nominee "Trainwreck."  Yes, "Trainwreck."

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

My predicted nominees:  Emma Donaghue for "Room," Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for "The Big Short," Phyllis Nagy for "Carol," Drew Goddard for "The Martian" and Nick Hornby for "Brooklyn"

My take:  Second to Best Supporting Actor, this is the deepest and most competitive field when it comes to calling an eventual winner.  The minor awards have gone back and forth between only six films.  Even with the Golden Globe win, I'm marking down Aaron Sorkin's "Steve Jobs" adaptation as the odd man out.  Interesting note, a win for Nagy or Donaghue would be an Oscar first for a woman in this category.  Start your rooting right there.  

Possible surprises and snubs:  Sorkin is the big name that could go from the leader in the category to the man on the outside looking in.  He's the sixth out of five spots and it's a big drop off to the next possible contender.  Any name other than "Steve Jobs" crashing would be a shocker.  

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2015, 2016, Awards Prediction, Awards Tracker, Column, Editorial, Oscar Predictions, Oscars, SPECIALDonald ShanahanBest Picture, The race for Best Picture, Oscar Predictions, Oscar nominations, Oscar contenders, Oscar hopefuls, Oscar bait, 88th Academy Awards, 88th Oscars, Oscars, 2016, 2015, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, Big 8, Oscar snubs, Oscar surprises, Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, The Big Short, Carol, Room, Brooklyn, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, Creed, Inside Out, Son of Saul, Straight Outta Compton, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, George Miller, Tom McCarthy, Todd Haynes, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Ridley Scott, Adam McKay, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Ryan Coogler, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs, Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl, Matt Damon, Bryan Cranston, Trumbo, Johnny Depp, Black Mass, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Keaton, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years, Jennifer Lawrence, Joy, Charlize Theron, Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back, Helen Mirren, Emily Blunt, Sicario, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Rylance, Michael Shannon, 99 Homes, Paul Dano, Love and Mercy, Jacob Tremblay, Benecio del Toro, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation, Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina, Alex Garland, Rooney Mara, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria, Rachel McAdams, Josh Singer, Pete Docter, Meg LaFauvre, Josh Cooley, Oren Movermann, Michael Alan Lerner, Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel and Ethan Coen, Joel CoenComment